If you’re someone who’s got a knack in cooking, then you must have the means to quickly reach to your man’s heart. But what if your specialties are typical American foods and your man is Sri Lankan? Are you willing to brave hunting for ingredients that would make a yummy, spicy curry?
The Offbeat Couple
Rukshan and Jody Fernando are professors from Midwest, USA. They’re happily married for 10 years now and are blessed with two kids and one dog. If Jody isn’t working, baby sitting or eating hamburgers and frying papadums with her family, she is busy sharing her thoughts and stories about bridging the gap Between Worlds.
What makes your marriage offbeat?
We are interracial and intercultural. I was born and raised in the Midwestern region of the US. My husband was born in New York City and returned to Sri Lanka to live with his parents when he was 10.
Tell us about the wedding. Did your different religious and cultural background affect how you planned the wedding?
To an extent – we didn’t follow ‘typical’ Sri Lankan customs because my husband and his family are Christian and many of the more typical Sri Lankan customs are related to Buddhism. Because of our shared faith, we actually had a lot in common in terms of what we valued in a wedding ceremony. My family considered a simple cake and punch reception, and my husband was quite opinionated that we needed to serve a meal or we’d offend the Sri Lankan side of the family. I’m from a small town, so the two family ‘sides’ were indeed both fascinated with the uniqueness each family brought to the wedding!
What are your biggest challenges as an interracial couple and how do you solve them?
Our biggest challenge is living in an area where we are often the only interracial couple. We get a fair amount of stares which just get old. Sometimes being the ‘only ones’ feels very lonely. We’ve spent a LOT of time talking through what my perceptions are as a person from the majority and after 10 years, I have a much deeper understanding of a minority in America experiences than I was when we first started dating. We’ve had to have some pretty gritty conversations which have been a strong impetus for growth in our personal lives.
Another struggle I face is the loss of similar background and experience. When we lived in a more metropolitan area, I would sometimes look at couples of the same race with a bit of jealousy, wondering what it would be like to just ‘fit’ and not have society question if you’re together or how you make it work.
Are there any marital issues that come up due to different religious background?
While we aren’t interfaith, Christian perspectives certainly vary from country to country. My husband can easily identify areas where the Christian church in America is more affected by American culture than by the Bible itself. This has helped to open my eyes to a whole new way of seeing my own faith in light of a global reality.
Did you ever encounter people who frown upon interracial marriage? How did you deal with them?
Not directly to our faces – we do get a lot of looks, and it’s hard to wonder what the looks mean sometimes. We do hear about opposition to interracial marriage from our students on occasion and spend time listening to their sorrow over this. There’s not much productive you can do about irrational racism in a family except exercise healthy boundaries, pray, and take a deep breath.
What are the benefits of an interracial marriage?
I love the way it broadens my perspective and helps me live as a global person. The world deeply needs people who know how to live ‘between worlds’ in a peaceful, respectful way. Intercultural marriage, done well, lays a model for people seeking peace across deep difference. It teaches you to pay attention to more than yourself, to be intentional about your choices, to share honestly and listen carefully, and to respect one another’s differences. (Read my longer post on this here.)
What compromises are required in order to make your marriage work?
I knew immediately that my husband would never be happy unless I knew how to cook his food. While this seems like a small thing to someone who’s family eats mostly for nourishment (well, and sweets too!), food to Rukshan = love. This means that I study South Asian cookbooks, drive long distances to Indian grocery stories, and plead for spices to be sent with relatives traveling back and forth. It also means that I don’t really know how to cook typical American dishes and feel a little intimidated if I have to cook for Americans because I don’t really know what tastes good to them. After eating so much tasty South Asian food for 10 years, American food has lost a lot of its appeal (though a juicy hamburger is still hard to beat!!)
One thing that my husband has comprised on is his culture’s more traditional view of women’s roles. Because we both work outside the home, he participates equally, caring for the kids and sometimes even staying home with them when they’re sick so I can go to work. While he willingly chooses to do this because he values our partnership, it is something that he has to work through at times because it goes so much against the grain of what he’s seen in marriage.
We also choose to travel as frequently as we can afford to Sri Lanka. This can push my own comfort levels as an American, and I have to loosen my grip on expectations I hold from living in a developed country. I’ve learned a lot about what I deem as normal rights and sense of entitlement, but it can still cause conflicting emotions.
Does cultural difference affect how you raise and discipline your children?
Having spent half of his childhood in a developing country, my husband was deeply influenced by the poverty he saw around him. This definitely affects how we live and raise our children. We try to be careful how many toys they have and work very intentionally to teach them the importance of giving away what they don’t use or need to share with those who do.
Because we’re living in America, we do as much as we can to make Sri Lankan culture normal and available to the kids. We have lots of Sri Lankan art in our home, books about kids with grandparents in two countries, and Sri Lankan food regularly. We’ve always talked about Sri Lanka and travel there as frequently as we can afford. They’re always *SHOCKED* when people don’t know where Sri Lanka is because they think everyone should know such a simple concept!
As far as discipline, Sri Lankan children tend to be more respectful to elders than American kids. I see this come out often when my husband sees kids on TV shows being disrespectful. What I might find as ‘normal’ or ‘not a big deal’, he thinks is majorly offensive and doesn’t want to expose our kids to these types of attitudes.
What’s your favorite way of spending time together?
We love to explore cities and travel, but that doesn’t happen much right now as our lives are jam-packed with work, school, graduate work, and commuting! We also like to cook together when time allows.
What are your secrets in keeping the romance alive?
Prioritizing time together ALONE – date nights where we go out and just enjoy each other’s company. As life moves along, so many tasks crowd out the way you enjoy each other. However, I have also had to recognize that romance changes from what it is initially looks like when you fall in love. It grows less external and more internal – for example, we’re definitely less affectionate with each other than when we dated, but we can read each other’s expressions intuitively and are learning to enjoy doing things for each other (even when we don’t like doing them personally). My husband doesn’t bring me flowers much, but he does put the kids to bed when he sees I’m tired.
What advice would you give to other Offbeat Couples?
Whatever your differences, make sure you love EACH OTHER and not each other’s differences. While they’re fascinating when you’re in love, they’ll eventually become unbearable if you don’t like each other.
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